Governmental Affairs News

Friday, March 13, 2015

Gov. Snyder's energy message focuses on the future

Gov. Snyder released a special message on energy today focusing on renewable energy and reducing energy waste. The governor said he could support expanding Michigan’s renewable energy portfolio standard for utilities to 24% by 2025. He also would like to adopt a cost-based target goal of 30-40% over the next 10 years. Customers have saved $2.5 billion by reducing energy waste since 2008, a number that could rise under the governor’s plan. Also included in the message was support for the current choice system that allows up to 10 percent of customers to seek an alternate supplier. He would not support eliminating or increasing the current 10 percent cap on choice. Finally the message asked energy suppliers to prove that they will have enough capacity over the next five years, since it typically takes about five years to build a new generating plant. Parts of the message conflict with legislation introduced by the House Energy Policy Committee chairman and other legislators. See next item.

Changes to energy regulations introduced
Bills switching to a fully regulated market (HB 4298), allowing energy generation from waste (HB 4297), expanding natural gas access (4303-4304), updating references to the regulation switch (HB 4299-4302) and repealing renewable standards (HB 4308) were introduced recently. All of the bills were referred to the House Energy Policy Committee, which began taking testimony on HB 4297-4304 on March 11. The bills would switch the state back to a fully regulated market and eliminate the 10 percent cap on the number of customers allowed to procure electricity from alternative suppliers. The bills were introduced by House Energy Policy Chairman Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton).

The chairman expressed his belief that a hybrid market will not function long-term and said some states that have deregulated have made the switch back to fully regulated. He believes the change will save ratepayers up to 5 percent and will address the concern about lack of new electric generation. Customers currently using alternative suppliers would be phased back into a regulated market as their current contracts expire. The committee is expected to continue to discuss the bill package for several weeks before taking any action.

It is uncertain whether HB 4308, the repeal of the 2008 renewable energy standards, will be given serious consideration by the committee.

Food license fee increases to be phased-in
Gov. Snyder’s proposed budget originally called for retail food license fees to increase by nearly 300 percent overnight. The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) has since agreed to work with food processors, grocery stores and restaurants to phase in the license fees in a year-over-year period. The phased-in approach would cut the increase to 58 percent each year for three years. MDARD also included more transparency in explaining how exactly the fee increases would be utilized by the department.

Food license fees have not been increased in nearly 15 years. An annual retail food license fee is currently $67 and would increase by $39 annually until reaching $183. An extended retail food license, which covers licensees that serve unpackaged food for immediate consumption and provide customer seating in the food area, is currently $172 and would increase by $99 annually until reaching $468.

Legislators introduce additional microbead ban
Two legislators in the House introduced similar versions of SB 158, which would prohibit the manufacture or sale of personal products containing plastic microbeads. HB 4287 would prohibit the manufacture of products containing microbeads by January 1, 2016, and prohibit the sale of products after January 1, 2017. HB 4345 would prohibit the manufacture of personal care products and over-the-counter drugs containing microbeads. Under HB 4345, personal care products containing microbeads could not be manufactured after December 31, 2017, or sold after December 31, 2018; over-the-counter drugs containing microbeads could not be manufactured after December 31, 2018, or sold after December 31, 2019. While similar legislation last term never received a hearing, the House bills have bipartisan support and were referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.

Other important items to note:

  • Wage garnishment: The Senate Commerce Committee on March 11 unanimously approved HB 4119 and 4120 , which provide employers with some protection from the wage garnishment process. 

  • E-waste expansion: The state’s Consumer Electronic Takeback Program, which requires manufacturers to take back and recycle electronic waste, or e-waste, would be expanded to include cell phones and tablets under HB 4291, introduced on March 4. The bill was referred to the House Communications and Technology Committee and has bipartisan support.

  • Service dogs: Legislation to ensure veterans with service-related injuries, including PTSD and traumatic brain injuries, are allowed to use service dogs was introduced on March 5 as HB 4313. If approved, service-related injuries would be considered a disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires businesses to allow access to service dogs. Anyone violating the act is guilty of a misdemeanor. The bill was referred to the House Regulatory Reform Committee.

  • Retail fraud cost recovery: SB 191, to allow for the recovery of law enforcement costs related to retail fraud cases, is scheduled for a hearing on March 17 before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Last year’s Senate bill never made it out of a House committee due to confusion that the bill would add new penalties for retail fraud. MRA supports the re-introduced legislation, since cost recovery may give law enforcement more incentive to pursue those crimes.

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